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Advice from a Reverse Snow Bird

We’re having a snow day here in the Seattle area—the first significant snowfall in several years. In my neighborhood it seems as though 2–3 inches of light, fluffy powder has fallen, but there are so many micro-climates here in the Puget Sound region that I know others nearby got at least half-a-foot. As someone who grew up in the northeast and spent many years in heavy snow locales, I am confident in my ability to cope with this level of winter weather. However, having lived here long enough, I also am completely terrified by my neighbors’ inability to cope with even a light dusting, so my plan is to stay hunkered down in my apartment unless I absolutely NEED to be elsewhere.

Since the snowfall seemed to be letting up, I went out to dust off and de-ice my car in case I did need to use it. While I was in the process, one of my neighbors walked by and stopped to give me some advice. She was a tiny little woman in an arctic parka, speaking with an accent that hinted strongly at coming from a part of the Americas that never sees any snow other than in the mountains.

“Don’t take the snow off the top of your car,” she said, seeing that I was most of the way through doing just that.

“Why” I asked, pausing just in case she had some reasonable piece of advice.

“Because you have a small car,” she said. “The roads are slippery and the snow is heavy, so it will weigh you down and help you keep from sliding.”

This, of course, was completely bogus. To begin with, snow in any form isn’t heavy enough to have that effect. Secondly, the minute you get above 15 MPH the wind will begin to blow the snow off your car and create a visual distraction for the cars behind you.

I explained this to the well-meaning woman, hoping to keep her from passing that piece of advice along to more inexperienced drivers who might believe her (and then might end up in front of me on the road).

“Really?” she said, giving me a look of uncertainty. “I thought the snow was heavy.”

“Not nearly heavy enough, especially once you’re driving,” I said, continuing to clear the powder off my car.

“Oh,” she said. “Well, I don’t drive.” Then she walked off toward the bus stop just outside our apartment complex.

Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow

Looking at the calendar earlier this week I found myself marveling at how fast January disappeared. Holy cats! Tomorrow is February already! This brought an old Monkeys song to mind, and made me realize that it was time for me to make some kind of non-sumo-related post here on the ol’ Stannex.

To start with, I’ve posted a new calendar coloring page for February 2019! Please download, color, and by all means SHARE this image! Goodness knows, I’d like these to get around as far and wide as possible. And when you’re done coloring, post a pic of that, too! I’d love to see what folks do with this (or my January calendar, for that matter)!

Secondly, tomorrow is Hourly Comic Day—a fun little artist challenge that I participated in several years in a row back when I was living in SoCal, but basically lost track of shortly after my return to Seattle. Well, I plan to dive back in tomorrow! I’ll be doing one autobiographical comic per hour that I’m awake on Feb. 1st . . . and I’ll be posting them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. In the meanwhile, if you want to see what Hourly Comic Day looked like in years past, here are some links:

Hourly Comic Day 2007

Hourly Comic Day 2008

Hourly Comic Day 2009

Hourly Comic Day 2010

Hourly Comic Day 2011

Hourly Comic Day 2012

SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho Senshuraku [Final Day]—Day 15

Here we are, senshuraku [the final day] of the 2019 Hatsu Basho. And what a long, strange tournament it’s been! Sekiwake Tamawashi retains the sole lead with a 12–2 record, with sekiwake Takakeisho one loss behind him, hoping for a little luck to get him into a playoff for the yusho [tournament championship].

Tamawashi’s name might not have been familiar to many of you before this week, but he by no means has come out of nowhere. Indeed, two years ago there was a lot of talk about him being a viable candidate for ozeki. He held a sanyaku rank for six straight tournaments in 2016–17, four times as sekiwake, and finished as the yusho runner-up in the November 2017 basho. He stumbled a little after that, spending much of 2018 in the upper Maegashira ranks, beating most opponents, but no longer seeming quite as competitive with the top dogs. With his performance here in the Hatsu Basho, Tamawashi has not only returned to sekiwake rank but also announced himself as a force to be reckoned with.

The yusho is squarely in his control today. If he wins his match against M9 Endo, who comes in with a 10–4 record, then Tamawashi will also win the tournament—period, end of story. If, on the other hand, he loses to Endo, then his fate depends on how sekiwake Takakeisho does in his match against ozeki Geoido. If Takakeisho loses, then Tamawashi wins the yusho in a less-than-glorious way. If Takakeisho wins then that would force a playoff between the two sekiwake immediately following the end of the day’s regularly scheduled bouts.

I know what result I’m hoping for!

I reported yesterday that yokozuna Hakuho’s kyujo [absence due to injury] would give ozeki Takayasu a fusen [default win] today, but the Kyokai [Sumo Association] didn’t want to end on such a dissatisfying note, so they have scheduled him a match today against M8 Kaisei. Thankfully, for Takayasu, he nabbed his eighth win yesterday against Endo, because the big Brazilian has been fighting much better than the ozeki for most of this tournament.

Speaking of lucky, ozeki, Goeido DID get his kachi-koshi through a fusen yesterday. Since his senshuraku match is against Takakeisho, he has to be counting his lucky stars that he didn’t have to fight for that eighth win. Neither one of these ozeki will be kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] in March, though both really kinda deserve to be.

Meanwhile, with his victory yesterday over M4 Okinoumi, Takakeisho got his 33rd win in the past three basho, which is enough to be considered for a promotion to ozeki. Word has gone out that there will be a special rijikai [meeting of the sumo elders] to discuss what to do about that. Feelings are split. The 33 win mark is a tough one to meet, but Takakeisho only had 9 wins in September’s Aki Basho. One camp believes that makes him even more worthy for doing so well in November and January, while another group feels that he hasn’t shown enough dominance over the whole period to warrant the promotion. Add to this the fact that the three current ozeki have all stumbled repeatedly during the period, and the Kyokai have a difficult decision to make.

Will they take a chance that Takakeisho is just on a hot streak? Or will they be leery of promoting another unpredictable rikishi to sumo’s second-highest rank? I know that I think that Takakeisho is bound for a big turn of fate in 2019—I think that the top-level rikishi are figuring out his weakness and that by mid-year he will be suffering through several make-koshi [majority of losses] tournaments in a row—a very un-ozeki-like performance.

My expectation is that the Kokai will not give him the promotion this time, but will announce a clear set of goals for the Osaka Basho in March. If Takakeisho meets those goals, they’ll promote him for May’s Natsu Basho. But then, I’ve been known to be wrong about such things in the past.

We DO know about the sansho [special prizes] for the Hatsu basho, though. Whatever the result of the yusho race, Tamawashi will get both a shukun-sho [outstanding performance prize] and a kanto-sho [fighting spirit prize] for his stellar performance. Komusubi Mitakeumi will also get a shukun-sho for being kyujo for four days at sumo’s most difficult rank and still managing to get his kachi-koshi. Finally, Takakeisho will receive a Gino-sho [technique prize], which I find kind of ironic because he really only showed the ability to win with ONE technique (I’d have given him a kanto-sho instead).

As always, I’ll list all of the “bubble” rikishi—those coming into senshuraku with 7–7 records—matches below. There’s nothing like standing on the dividing line between “heaven and hell” to bring out exciting sumo.

Remember, if you enjoyed this coverage, please consider putting a little thank you into Kintamayama’s tip jar. He works his butt off to get these videos to us quickly every day and deserves whatever support we can give him.

M11 Ikioi (9–5) vs. M8 Asanoyama (7–7)—Our first bubble match. Asanoyama needs a win, but Ikioi is trying for double-digit wins and a big promotion. (3:15)
M7 Ryuden (5–9) vs. M15 Kotoeko (7–7)—Kotoeko needs a win to avoid being demoted to Juryo. (4:40)
M12 Meisei (7–7) vs. M6 Onosho (8–6)—Meisei won’t get demoted to Juryo if he loses, but he’ll be at the very bottom of the Makuuchi banzuke next time for sure. Onosho is trying to save some face after a pretty miserable middle section of this basho. (5:10)
M16 Daiamami (4–10) vs. M5 Yoshikaze (2–12)—Two rikishi who had terrible tournaments put in a very good showing on senshuraku. (6:40)
M5 Aoiyama (7–7) vs. M2 Hokutofuji (8–6)—Aoiyama seemed to have a better basho than he really did. He’s on the bubble, and facing a tough opponent in Hokutofuji. (8:25)
M9 Endo (10–4) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (12–2)—If Tamawashi wins this bout, he takes the yusho. If not, then it depends on how Takakeisho does in his match. (12:30)
Sekiwake Takakeisho (11–3) vs. ozeki Goeido (8–6)—By the start of this match, Takakeisho will know whether he’s got a shot at a playoff. But even if not, he’ll still be fighting to remain the sole runner-up for the basho. Expect his best sumo. As for Goeido, who can tell? (14:35)

SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho—Day 14

It’s Day 14 of the Hatsu Basho. We’re in the final weekend and there is just one man atop the leaderboard with an 11–2 record—sekiwake Tamawashi.

WHAT?!?

That’s right, yokozuna Hakuho lost for the third day in a row on Friday, leaving him tied with sekiwake Takakeisho (who is the rikishi who beat him) for second place at 10–3.

What crazy alternate world have we entered? Is it possible that this will be the fifth basho in a row without a repeat yusho [tournament championship] winner? Last April it was Kakuryu, July was Mitakeumi, September was Hakuho, and November was Takakeisho. If Tamawashi wins his next two matches, the title is his and we’ll have five different winners in five consecutive basho, something that doesn’t happen very often in modern sumo.

Again, Hakuho didn’t look injured yesterday, he just wasn’t at the top of his game, and he fell prey to the same lefthand roundhouse slapdown that Takakeisho used to devastating effect in November. That having been said, he clearly isn’t the same Hakuho who won a zensho-yusho [perfect record championship] in September and still has some recovery to do.

I can’t remember the last time we came into the final weekend of a tournament where I felt so completely uncertain of the likely outcomes. Tamawashi fights M5 Aoiyama today and M9 Endo tomorrow—two mid-ranked rikishi who have performed very well this basho. Meanwhile, Takakeisho will face M4 Okinoumi and ozeki Goeido—higher-ranked opponents, both of whom have struggled a bit over the past two weeks. And Hakuho will have the toughest road of all as he must face the two ozeki, Goeido and Takayasu (both of whom still need one more victory to get their kachi-koshi [majority of wins].

Could we be headed for a playoff? A three-way playoff? I really don’t know, and that’s very exciting!

<<UPDATE: Apparently, Hakuho HAS been fighting injured this whole time. He has withdrawn from the tournament citing a knee injury suffered on Day 4 against Hokutofuji, and a left ankle injury suffered on Day 5 against Nishikigi. Though he still was still in the mix for the yusho, he must believe that his injuries would not stand up against ozeki competitors. That means that both Goeido and Takayasu will get fusen [default wins], assuring them both of being kachi-koshi. I find this unsatisfying in several different ways, but sometimes that’s how sumo goes.>>

Today’s most interesting matches include:

Sekiwake Takakeisho (10–3) vs. M4 Okinoumi (6–7)—Takakeisho must win to stay in the yusho hunt. Okinoumi must win to avoid make-koshi [majority of losses]. This is only the fourth time they’ve ever faced each other. (10:10)
M5 Aoiyama (7–6) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (11–2)—Tamawashi is fighting to keep sole possession of the lead in the yusho race. Aoiyama is fighting to get his kachi-koshi. (11:10)
Ozeki Takayasu (7–6) vs. komusubi Mitakeumi (8–2–3)—Takayasu needs one more win to get his kachi-koshi. While Hakuho’s withdrawal will get him that automatically, it would look much better for him if he EARNED it. Meanwhile, although Mitakeumi is fighting on an obvious injured left leg, he HAS already earned his kachi-koshi and is fighting for pride and to position himself for a possible ozeki promotion later in the year. (12:15)

SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho—Day 13

Holy cats, what a difference a day makes! It’s Day 13 of the Hatsu Basho and we have a tie atop the leaderboard and a dog fight going into the final weekend. Yokozuna Hakuho and sekiwake Tamawashi are both 10–2, with three rikishi nipping at their heels with 9–3 records—sekiwake Takakeisho, M8 Kaisei, and M9 Endo.

Hakuho has now lost two days in a row. The fear when that happens is that there is something physically wrong with him, but that didn’t seem to be the case yesterday (at least not to me). Hakuho more or less had control of his bout against Tamawashi when the yokozuna did something even rarer than losing twice in a row—he let his concentration slip. On what should have been a finishing maneuver, Hakuho put his head down and rushed forward, pretty well assured of victory. But with his head down, he couldn’t see that his opponent made a little half step to the right, and Hakuho was no longer lined up to deliver a finishing blow, just an ordinary thrust. And worse, it left Hakuho in a very awkward position—one that Tamawashi quickly and wisely took advantage of to grab an upset victory and a share of the lead in the yusho race.

I expect that Hakuho will come back super focused and strong as a bull today. Then again, he’ll have to because his opponent is the other sekiwake Takakeisho, who is tied for second place currently and fighting with a very good rhythm. This will be the final match of the day today, and should be well worth waiting for.

Yesterday, Takakeisho beat former ozeki M4 Kotoshogiku. It was an interesting match because Kotoshogiku is a rikishi that the young sekiwake could use as a template to make the next big improvements in his sumo. They are both relatively short, bulky rikishi, and Kotoshogiku held the rank of ozeki for about five years. He did this with a combination of oshi [thrusting style] sumo, which Takakeisho already does quite well, and a set of belt-based techniques that took advantage of his size and mass. Basically, he’d get inside his opponent’s defenses then use a “bouncing belly” maneuver to make them stand too tall and throw them off balance. If Takakeisho could add something like that to his repertoire, he could very well get promoted to ozeki and do more with it than Kotoshogiku generally did.

The current ozeki continue to do better in their recent matches. Takayasu beat M5 Aoiyama in a brutal slap-fest, giving the big Bulgarian an extra shove when the match was done. (Be careful, Takayasu—you aren’t doing so well that you can afford to get the shimpan [ringside judges] mad at you for unsportsmanlike dame-oshi [extra shoves].) This takes Takayasu to 7–5, meaning he needs just one more win to get his kachi-koshi [majority of wins].

Meanwhile, ozeki Goeido won his match against M5 Yoshikaze. In some tournaments that would have been a marquee match, but Yoshikaze is having an even worse basho than Goeido, and came into the bout already make-koshi [majority of losses] with a 2–9 record. Goeido won the match, but he didn’t look particularly strong doing so. And with his record now standing at 6–6, he still needs to win two of his remaining three bouts—meaning he must beat either Takayasu or Hakuho—if he wants to get his kachi-koshi.

Our other two second-place rikishi should begin to get pushed up for matches against tougher opponents over the final few days of the tournament. Such is the “reward” for doing well at a mid- or lower-level ranking.

Today’s most interesting matches include:

M8 Kaisei (9–3) vs. M11 Ikioi (7–5)—Kaisei is tied for second place and still facing a lower ranked rikishi (though Ikioi is generally better than his current rank, but so is Kaisei, so it evens out). Kaisei is fighting to stay in the yusho race, Ikioi still needs one more win for his kachi-koshi. (1:55)
M13 Yago (7–5) vs. M6 Onosho (7–5)—Two rikishi, each needing one more win for kachi-koshi, both having some mechanical difficulties with their sumo here in Week 2. (3:20)
M12 Kagayaki (4–8) vs. M5 Yoshikaze (2–10)—Both of these rikishi are performing terribly this basho, but their match today has something I’ve never seen before in any sumo bout. (4:20)
M5 Aoiyama (6–6) vs. M9 Endo (9–3)—Aoiyama started the basho great guns, but Endo is the one who is currently tied for second place. (5:45)
M1 Ichinojo (6–6) vs. komusubi Mitakeumi (7–2–3)—Mitakeumi still needs one more win to get his kachi-koshi. Can he stand up to massive Ichinojo given his obviously still injured leg? (8:20)
M2 Hokutofuji (7–5) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (10–2)—Hokutofuji wants his kachi-koshi. Tamawashi wants to maintain his share of the yusho lead. Only one of them will get what he wants. (11:00)
Sekiwake Takakeisho (9–3) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (10–2)—The big match of the day. Will Hakuho lose three matches in a row? Can Takakeisho hold on spot in the yusho race? (12:50)

SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho—Day 12

Things are getting interesting as we enter the final four days of the Hatsu Basho. Yesterday, yokozuna Hakuho lost for the first time. However, since he had a two match lead over the nearest competition, he’s still alone atop the leaderboard with his 10–1 record. Immediately behind him at 9–2 is sekiwake Tamawashi, and a group of four rikishi with 8–3 records—sekiwake Takakeisho, M8 Kaisei, M9 Endo, and M15 Chiyonokuni. (Of course, Chiyonokuni is kyujo [absent due to injury], so he will fall off the leaderboard today.)

Interestingly, Hakuho and Tamawashi are scheduled to go head-to-head today, and suddenly the yokozuna is looking as vulnerable as he did in the first few days of the tournament. He didn’t just lose to komusubi Mitakeumi yesterday, he was fairly well blown out of the ring. Now, that might be because, after Mitakeumi having been kyujo for four days, Hakuho suspected that the young upstart wouldn’t have the strength to come out with a powerful tachi-ai [initial charge]. Or the yokozuna could just have had so much confidence in his own ability to make a counter-move that he let his opponent take the advantage. But it might just be that Hakuho really is less dominant that he’s seemed over the last half-week. In any case, if he isn’t completely up to snuff, we’re going to have a tie atop the leaderboard when today is through.

Takakeisho seems back on track with his win over M2 Hokutofuji. The two of them pushed each other around viciously, but Takakeisho never lost focus, and even resisted falling for the same maneuver that cost him his match on Day 10. If he can win his match today against M4 Kotoshogiku, and if Tamawashi beats Hakuho, Takakeisho will suddenly find himself one win off the pace heading into the final weekend, and within striking distance of his second yusho in a row.

Both ozeki won yesterday, which really shouldn’t be as big a surprise as it is this tournament. Not only did they win, they both looked strong again. Of course, every time I’ve said that about them this basho, they’ve followed up with lackluster sumo and usually another loss. They both still are far from guaranteed to reach kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. Indeed, at 6–5 Takayasu still has to win half of his remaining matches in order to have a winning tournament, and Goeido is even worse off. He’s 5–6 and must win three of his remaining for bouts in order to keep from being kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] in the March tournament.

Today’s most interesting matches include:

M14 Chiyoshoma (5–6) vs. M8 Asanoyama (5–6)—With matching 5–6 records, these two are in equally perilous positions. The winner will have to win two of his remaining three matches to get kachi-koshi, but the loser will be make-koshi if he loses once more over the weekend. Desperation sumo! (2:15)
Komusubi Myogiryu (5–6) vs. M3 Shohozan (4–7)—Two scrappers both needing a win pretty badly. (7:50)
M1 Tochiozan (5–6) vs. komusubi Mitakeumi (6–2–3)—After his win over Hakuho yesterday, it was clear that Mitakeumi was still in pain and limping badly. But he only needs two more to get kachi-koshi. If he can’t beat Tochiozan, that will seem much less likely. (9:00)
Ozeki Takayasu (6–5) vs. M5 Aoiyama (6–5)—Both rikishi need two more wins to lock in their kachi-koshi, and both have performed very inconsistently all tournament. If we get both of their A-games, this will be an exciting bout. (12:10)
Sekiwake Tamawashi (9–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (10–1)—This is the big match of the day. If Hakuho wins, he’s back to having a two-win lead with only three days to go. If Tamawashi wins, he and Hakuho will be tied for the lead with a group of hungry rikishi hot on their tails. (13:25)

SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho—Day 11

We’ve finished two-thirds of the Hatsu Basho, and find ourselves in a very familiar position. Yokozuna Hakuho is the leader with a perfect 10–0 record. Less usual is the fact that even his closest competitors already have two losses, giving the yokozuna a cushion that he shows no sign of needing. Tied for second-place right now with 8–2 records are sekiwake Tamawashi and M15 Chiyonokuni. Hanging on in third place with 7–3 records are sekiwake Takakeisho, M8 Kaisei, M9 Endo, and M13 Yago.

Tuesday was a tough day as two rikishi went down hard with knee injuries that required them to be wheeled out of the stadium. One of them was Chiyonokuni, whose knee appeared to buckle in his loss to M11 Ikioi. He wasn’t able to stand and bow in the post-match ritual and seemed to be almost unaware of where he was. The other was M13 Kotoyuki, who went flying off the dohyo in his match against M10 Takarafuji and seemed at first to be unconscious (there were worries that he’d hit his head on the stadium floor and suffered a concussion). But eventually he scrabbled to his feet and made it clear that the problem was actually with his knee. As of this writing, neither rikishi has announced that they will be kyujo [absent due to injury], but I find it hard to imagine that either one will be ready for competition today.

<<UPDATE: It is confirmed, both Kotoyuki and Chiyonokuni are kyujo as of today. Chiyonokun has left knee ligament damage that requires two weeks of rest. Luckily, he secured his kachi-koshi and so will stay in the Makuuchi Division and even get a small promotion in March (which he sure earned with his performance here). Meanwhile, Kotoyuki has been diagnosed with a femur contusion and lateral ligament damage on his right leg. No word on how long he’ll be sidelined, but with only a 4–6 record so far, he may well be demoted down to Juryo in March, adding insult to his injuries.>>

Hakuho continued his winning ways, making short work of M4 Okinoumi yesterday. Hakuho really does seem to be picking up steam as the basho progresses. His win yesterday was classic for him—a strong, fast tachi-ai [initial charge] which let him grab his opponent’s belt and march him quickly out of the ring. With a two win lead over his nearest competition and both remaining ozeki looking wobbly at best, it’s hard to imagine Hakuho letting his 43rd yusho [tournament championship] slip away unless one of his recurring injuries crops up again.

Today Hakuho will face komusubi Mitakeumi, who is returning after four days kyujo. When last we saw Mitakeumi, he had twisted his knee, but according to doctors suffered no structural damage, just muscle and ligament twists. I’m not sure how it behooves him to come back to the tournament now. Certainly, with a 5–2–3 record, he has a chance to get kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and save his sanyaku rank (he’s been either komusubi or sekiwake for twelve basho in a row now). But given how the two sekiwake are performing, there doesn’t seem to be much chance for him to get a promotion back to his former rank, and there seems to be every chance that he could hurt himself even further and risk a more disabling condition. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that he is, indeed, ready to step back into the fray.

Both ozeki won on Tuesday, something we haven’t seen much during this tournament. Takayasu saved some face for himself and the ozeki rank as a whole by beating sekiwake Takakeisho using the young rikishi’s own preferred technique. The two blasted each other several time with violent thrusts, and then Takayasu nimbly stepped out of his opponent’s path and switched to a scooping slapdown blow. Goeido, on the other hand, looked like his old self in twisting down former ozeki M4 Kotoshogiku. If the two ozeki keep up these types of performances, they still can offer some resistance to Hakuho in the final weekend and hopefully keep some manner of uncertainty about the yusho race.

Sekiwake Tamawashi has very quietly been having a very good tournament. While pundits (including me) have spent a good deal of time talking about his fellow sekiwake Takakeisho, Tamawashi now has the better record of the pair and is currently tied for second place overall. He was ranked at sumo’s third-highest rank before, indeed, he had a very strong run as a sekiwake back in 2017 and there was talk of him looking like a strong candidate for ozeki. Although Tamawashi stumbled in 2018, his rank never dropped below M2. It could be that he’s overcome whatever troubles he was having and is ready to start making another run at a promotion to sumo’s second-highest level. He’s beaten all three ozeki already this basho and has only Hakuho left to face (probably on Friday).

Today’s most intriguing matches include:

M14 Yutakayama (6–4) vs. M6 Onosho (6–4)—Onosho started the basho strong, but has lost three matches in a row. He needs to get back on the ball to secure his kachi-koshi. (4:50)
M4 Kotoshogiku (4–6) vs. sekikwake Tamawashi (8–2)—With Chiyonokuni’s injury, Tamawashi really has sole possession of second place. Even though he’s two wins behind the leader, he has to keep winning if he wants to stay ahead of the third-place pack. (8:40)
Sekiwake Takakeisho (7–3) vs. M2 Hokutofuji (6–4)—Both of these rikishi have looked very strong, but both have also suffered a few self-inflicted losses. They’re both big pusher/thrusters so this will be about power sumo, and listen for the knock of their headbutt at the tachi-ai! (9:45)
Komusubi Mitakeumi (5–2–3) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (10–0)—At the start of the basho, this was a much anticipated match. With Mitakeumi just returning from four kyujo days, no one knows what shape he’ll really be in. (12:35)

SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho—Day 10

We’ve reached Day 10 of the Hatsu Basho and yokozuna Hakuho is still undefeated, and thus still alone atop the leaderboard. In fact, he’s gained an even greater advantage because two of his immediate competitors lost yesterday leaving just M15 Chiyonokuni in second place with an 8–1 record.

Hakuho continues to look a little stronger each day. On Monday he completely manhandled M4 Kotoshogiku, but that really came as no surprise. For five years Kotoshogiku was an ozeki and fought Hakuho every tournament and the yokozuna completely owned him the entire time. Yesterday’s was their sixty-second meeting, and Hakuho now leads their rivalry 56–6. Given that the two ozeki are performing as poorly as they are, the only two real challenges Hakuho has left on his schedule are the sekiwake.

Speaking of the sekiwake, Takakeisho seems to have gotten right back into his pushing/thrusting groove, quickly beating N2 Nishikigi and improving his record to 7–2. Meanwhile, Tamawashi also notched his seventh win, in his case by crushing ozeki Takayasu to the clay. They’re both two losses behind Hakuho, but if he stumbles they are well poised to jump back into the yusho [tournament championship] race.

It’s beginning to very much look like Takayasu is actually injured. At first he seemed to be mentally off his game, but the way his opponents have been manhandling him point more to a something physical (and probably in his right leg). His loss yesterday takes him to 4–5, and looking like he doesn’t have the tools to pull out of this dive. Still, given his hardheadedness, he’s unlikely to withdraw from the tournament until he actually registers a make-koshi [majority of losses]. I can only hope that happens quickly so that he can begin resting and receiving medical treatment.

The other ozeki, Goeido, lost his sixth bout yesterday, crumbling under pressure from M4 Okinoumi. Now, I like Okinoumi, but he’s got a well-deserved reputation for not being a “clutch” rikishi. Indeed, he’s better known for showing his worst face when squaring off against high-ranking opponents. But he looked calm and steady yesterday, while Goeido was shaky and indecisive. With a record now of 3–6, Goeido can only spare two more losses before he is make-koshi, and that’s seeming almost inescapable at this point.

M8 Kaisei seems to have reverted to his usual unpredictable ways, putting in champion-level performances one day, and then seeming as though his mind is miles away the next. He lost his third match yesterday and now is pretty much out of all reasonable chances for competing for the yusho. At 3–6, he still will probably get his kachi-koshi without any real trouble and be promoted for the Osaka Basho in March. But if he can’t find a way to reliably bring his A-game EVERY day, he’ll probably end up falling back down the banzuke [ranking sheet] after that.

M15 Chiyonokuni got his kachi-koshi yesterday and seems to be locked into a solid rhythm. Being so low on the banzuke he probably will continue to notch relatively easy wins for the next few days before the Kyokai [Sumo Association] rewards his good performance with matches against better ranked opponents. Still, he’s got a lot of skill and may be able to remain near the top of the leaderboard late into Week 2—and he might even be able to parlay his advantage into a surprise yusho, or at least a final day playoff for the championship.

Let’s look at some of today’s most interesting matches.

M15 Chiyonokuni (8–1) vs. M11 Ikioi (5–4)—The lone second-place rikishi, Chiyonokuni, faces the much bruised and battered but never bowed Ikioi. (3:10)
M7 Ryuden (3–6) vs. M9 Endo (6–3)—Two very popular rikishi trying to get their Week 2 efforts off to a strong start. (6:10)
M8 Asanoyama (3–6) vs. M6 Onosho (6–3)—After starting the basho with six straight wins, Onosho has lost his last three matches. In every case because he got too aggressive and overextended his reach, throwing him off balance. (8:00)
M5 Aoiyama (5–4) vs. M8 Kaisei (7–2)—Another two rikishi who started the basho among the leaders but struggled over the middle weekend. Kaisei could still be on the edge of the yusho hunt if he does well in Week 2. (9:30)
Ozeki Takayasu (4–5) vs. sekiwake Takakeisho (7–2)—Takayasu had better start winning, and it would do him some extra good to put down the “upstart” Takakeisho. Of course, I’m not sure his legs are up to the task. (13:55)
M4 Okinoumi (6–3) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (9–0)—Okinoumi is doing surprisingly well this basho, and is fresh off a win over an ozeki. Hakuho has to keep his focus and keep winning—and he’s got a lot of experience doing just that. In their twenty previous meetings, Okinoumi has won only once. (15:00)

SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho—Day 9

And so we move into Week 2 of the Hatsu Basho. Yokozuna Hakuho remains alone atop the leaderboard, having secured his eighth win yesterday. Three rikishi are one win off the pace with 7–1 records—M8 Kaisei, M13 Yago, and M15 Chiyonokuni.

It was touching to see the Emperor and Empress yesterday, particularly knowing that it was probably the final time the will visit the royal box. The crowd was clearly emotional about it, too, and even as a relatively detached gaijin, I found myself getting a little misty as the royals waved on their way out of the stadium and the audience sent them off to “banzai” cheers.

Hakuho continues to look more and more solid as the days pass. He rolled M5 Aoiyama pretty easily for his eighth win, and handing the big Bulgarian his third loss. With all that he has accomplished at this point in his career, I often wonder what there is left for him to aim for. Of course, Hakuho has said that he wants to remain active through the 2020 Olympics, so that he can do his yokozuna dohyo-iri [ring entering ceremony] in front of the entire world, but I couldn’t imagine what else he was using to challenge himself. During commentary over the weekend, though, one of the reporters talked about some goals that Hakuho has recently mentioned in the Japanese press.

Hakuho turned 33 years old last year, and that plays into a new set of goals, linked to how well legendary yokozuna Chiyonofuji did late in his storied career. Hakuho wants to beat Chiyonofuji’s record for most yusho [tournament championships] won after his 33rd birthday—that number being 8. Having only managed to win 1 basho last year, that means that Hakuho still has to lift the Emperor’s Cup eight more times to set a new mark. Since he’s already won 42 yusho (an all-time record), that means that if he meets that goal he will also reach a career total of 50, a mark that many people have called “impossible.” He also wants to stay active as a yokozuna longer than Chiyonofuji, who retired at the age of 35 years and 11 months—so Hakuho’s goal is to still be fighting when he’s 36 years old. So I guess that, health allowing, we can count on him being in the mix for another three years or more.

Yesterday’s marquee match was the one between sekiwake Takakeisho and M6 Onosho, two of the brighter stars from the next-generation of rikishi that are climbing the banzuke. Takakeisho won, leaving both rikishi with 6–2 records and hoping for some slippage on the leaderboard to let them back into the yusho race proper.

Meanwhile, both remaining ozeki lost yesterday—AGAIN. Takayasu slipped to 4–4 as he looked completely unfocused against M3 Shohozan. His opponent pulled a henka [sidestep at the initial charge] and Takayasu just barreled forward with his head down, basically tripping over his own feet. On the other hand, Goeido got pushed around and tossed to the clay by sekiwake Tamawashi, leaving him with 3–5 record. Both ozeki are going to have to work hard in Week 2 if they want to avoid make-koshi [majority of losses] and being kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] in the March tournament (a fate that is already certain for kyujo [absent due to injury] ozeki Tochinoshin).

Today’s most interesting matches include:

M15 Chiyonokuni (7–1) vs. M12 Meisei (6–2)—Chiyonokuni is currently tied for second place and is going for his kach-koshi today. Meisei, on the other hand, is on a six match winning streak. (2:15)
M13 Yago (7–1) vs. M11 Ikioi (4–4)—Yago is another second-place rikishi going for kachi-koshi. He faces the iron rikishi Ikioi. (3:40)
M7 Ryuden (2–6) vs. M8 Kaisei (7–1)—Kaisei is also going for his kachi-koshi and to remain in the midst of the yusho race. Ryuden is a strong young rikishi who has been struggling this basho. (5:35)
Ozeki Takayasu (4–4) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (6–2)—Takayasu must win four of his remaining seven matches to avoid make-koshi. Meanwhile, Tamawashi is having a good first tournament back at sumo’s third-highest rank (he spent most of 2017 as a sekiwake). (10:50)
M4 Okinoumi (5–3) vs. Ozeki Goeido (3–5)—Goeido must win five of his remaining seven matches to avoid make-koshi. He’s fighting against often inconsistent Okinoumi who has had a pretty good tournament so far. (11:35)
M4 Kotoshogiku (4–4) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (8–0)—These two have fought sixty-one times in the past, and Hakuho has won fifty-five of those matches. There are 44 kensho [sponsorship] envelopes on the line, though, so that’s a pretty good motivation for the former-ozeki to give it his best shot one more time. (12:30)

SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho Nakabi [Middle Day]—Day 8

Here we are, halfway through the Hatsu Basho, and sitting alone atop the leaderboard once again is yokozuna Hakuho with a perfect 7–0 record. Immediately behind him with just one loss are M6 Onosho, M8 Kaisei, M13 Yago, and M15 Chiyonokuni.

Today is a big day at the Kokugikan [National Sports Arena] as the Emperor and Empress will be attending the matches. They are known to be fans of sumo and show up in person a few times per year during the Tokyo-based tournaments, though that has been less often in recent years due to their age. Indeed, today will likely be the final time the Heisei Emperor will attend sumo—he has announced his intention to abdicate the throne in April and pass the imperial title on to his son. The Emperor and Empress are much beloved by the Japanese people in general, and particularly among sumo fans, so there will be even more attention than usual paid to their presence this time as it is the sumo world’s chance to bid them farewell.

Meanwhile, on the dohyo, Hakuho seems to be as good as his word to “settle down” as the tournament moves into its second half. After struggling in the middle of Week 1, he was all business in his victory over M3 Shohozan, and is suddenly looking like the prohibitive favorite to take the first yusho [tournament championship] of 2019. Of course, a lot can happen in Week 2.

The two remaining ozeki—Takayasu and Goeido—also seem to be getting their rhythms, after rocky beginnings. If they continue to perform up to their usual standards, they could still give Hakuho some trouble in the tournament’s final days.

Onosho suffered his first defeat yesterday at the hands of Kaisei. The big Brazilian rebounded from his poor showing on Friday and slid right back into his A-level performance, easily winning yesterday’s bout. It would be great if he could continue on that path, because when he’s firing on all cylinders, Kaisei looks like an ozeki. His problem has always been that he can’t be counted on to give that kind of effort every day of a tournament. Onosho didn’t look bad in their match. He’s a young rikishi—the second-youngest in the division behind Takakeisho—and has to go through this kind of situation a few times before he’ll have the seasoning to pull through in the clutch.

Interestingly, those two young rikish—Takakeisho and Onosho—have a very long history together. They fought often when they were in college, and joined professional sumo at about the same time, both making their way up the ranks quickly and continuing to square off regularly. They will do so again today in what most people think is the marquee match of nakabi.

M5 Aoiyama lost his second match of the tournament yesterday, knocking him off the leaderboard. He got a little sloppy and let M6 Chiyotairyu use his own favorite hatakikomi [slap down] maneuver against him. If he wants to stay in the yusho race, he’s going to have to come back in a big way because his match today is against Hakuho.

There has been a lot of rough sumo this tournament, with several rikishi already having gone kyujo [absent due to injury] and several more sporting bandages. However the arguably the most beat up of all is M11 Ikioi, who had a gash opened on his forehead on Day 1 (requiring several stitches) and falling hard on his knee on Day 2 (leaving him hobbling out of the arena afterward). Yesterday, Ikioi got a thumb jabbed in his left eye, momentarily leaving him unable to see and sending him to the hospital afterward. Amazingly, though, he will be back in action again today. Ikioi is the sport’s current iron-man, having NEVER missed a day of competition since he joined professional sumo in March of 2005.

Today’s most interesting matches include:

M13 Yago (6–1) vs. M16 Daiamami (2–5)—Have a look at Yago, who remains one win off the pace in the yusho race. (1:25)
M12 Kagayaki (1–6) vs. M15 Chiyonokuni (6–1)—Likewise, have a look at Chiyonokuni, who is also in the group currently tied for second place. (1:55)
M15 Kotoeko (3–4) vs. M11 Ikioi (4–3)—Battered, bloodied, and half-blind, Ikioi is STILL fighting on! (3:30)
M4 Kotoshogiku (4–3) vs. M8 Kaisei (6–1)—Another of our second-place rikishi, Kaisei facing Kotoshogiku, who he’s only ever beaten once in all their past meetings. (5:55)
Sekiwake Takakeisho (5–2) vs. M6 Onosho (6–1)—This is the big match of the day. The two youngest rikishi in the division, who are also among the brightest next-gen stars, and both still in the hunt for the yusho. (9:45)
M5 Aoiyama (5–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (7–0)—And, of course, our leader, Hakuho, going for kachi-koshi on Day 8. Aoiyama has only ever beaten the yokozuna once in nineteen tries. (12:55)